“Nevertheless, She Persisted”

February 24, 2017

Editorials, Editorials, News

By Elizabeth E. Raucher

Shrew. Nag. Harpy. Bossy. Loud. Annoying. Angry. Feminazi. These are just a few words that are regularly used to degrade women every day.

On the night of February 7th, Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, stood to protest the nomination of Jeff Sessions as the next United States Attorney General. Jeff Sessions is a far-right senator from Alabama and has been one of President Trump’s contentious Cabinet picks. Senator Warren began to read a letter by Coretta Scott King, the wife of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mrs. King had written the letter to oppose Sessions’ then-nomination for a Federal Judgeship in the 1980’s.

Senator Warren’s decision to read Mrs. King’s letter made perfect sense. The biggest issue regarding Sessions’ nomination was racism, which Mrs. King’s letter focused on. Senator Warren was simply debating the nomination of Mr. Sessions. However, as she was reading the letter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked Rule 19, effectively preventing Senator Warren from speaking further.

Rule 19 is an obscure and rarely used rule which essentially states that a senator must not disrespect or defame the character of a fellow senator. “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” Mr. McConnell stated later that evening. Little did Mr. McConnell know he was giving strong women everywhere a rallying cry, not unlike how Mr. Trump’s “Nasty Woman” comment became a source of strength among feminists.

There is no question in my mind that the real issue at the heart of this incident is that Senator Warren is a woman who does not hesitate to say what she thinks. She was standing up for what she believed, and, when told to back down, refused to do so. She was standing her ground, firmly, which was perceived as threatening and intimidating by her male colleagues.

Infuriatingly, after Senator Warren left the chamber, several men read Mrs. King’s letter without incident. On these grounds, it is hard to justify silencing Senator Warren because of the content of what she was saying. If the men who had read the letter were Republicans, it would be easy to pin it down as your regular Washington partisanship, but it wasn’t: Bernie Sanders, I-VT and former Democratic Candidate for President, was one of those who read the letter, along with other Democratic senators. At its most basic, asking Senator Warren not to read this letter was men attempting to take back power they saw themselves as losing.

Ultimately, the problem that lead to the incident with Senator Warren is cultural more than anything else. Women are taught that being strong is “unladylike” and that to demand what is fair and right is to be bossy and pushy. We are taught that to be ladylike is to be quiet, demure, and passive. When a woman is unashamed and unafraid to be loud and opinionated, it sends shockwaves through American culture.
What is needed to change what happened the night of February 7th to Senator Warren is not merely an acceptance of her as a person, or an acceptance of liberalism, or even a lessening of partisanship in Washington. It is a shift in cultural perspective. This is the only way that we can prevent further incidents like this from happening.

 

Warren at the Democratic National Convention Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Warren at the Democratic National Convention Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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